We’re All on the Same Team, Right?

Steve* and I were out of our district, covering another city. I’d known Steve since he was a wheelchair van driver and I was a new EMT. Now here we were, with over $100,00 worth of equipment, the last line of defense for thousands of people. We had just been discussing the absurdity of that fact when the fire radio squawked.

“Attention Ladder 3. . .”

For us, it’s either good or bad when they send just the ladder. On the good side, someone left dinner on the stove and is now locked out of their apartment. The ladder smashes the door, and everyone but the landlord goes home happy. On the bad side, it’s a medical emergency with someone trapped behind a locked door.

“Ladder 3, respond 7 Duke Avenue for the well being check.*” This would be the bad side. Someone apparently hadn’t seen their elderly neighbor in a day or two. Steve and I started sliding toward the address. ‘Sliding’ is a term of art in our business. It means we know we’ll be going somewhere, but we haven’t been dispatched yet. We’re not supposed to go until they send us, so we leave the red lights off and ‘slide.’

“Fire Alarm to Ladder 3”
“Ladder 3”
“Ladder 3, do you need EMS?”
“Ladder 3, that’s affirmative. We’re with the patient now. Have EMS continue.”

That was our cue. “Operations, Paramedic 8.”
“P8, go.”
“Mike*, do you have a call for 7 Duke Ave yet?”
“Nope, let me check with the other division.”

You’re kidding, right? We kept heading that way anyway. “P8, operations.”
“Go ahead.”
“The other division knows nothing about it either.”
“Mike, tell them Ladder 3 is looking for us, and we’re going. We’ll sort it out later.” Some of our Telecommunicators are good at anything but communicating.

Duke Avenue was a small, one way street on the extreme other end of the city. Upon our arrival, Ladder 3 was in the middle of the block taking up the whole street. We parked behind it, grabbed our gear and headed in. The captain met us on the front steps. We could see the broken doorjamb behind him. “She’s upstairs,” he said. “The visiting nurse called when she couldn’t get in. No one’s seen the patient since yesterday morning, and she’s down on the floor.”

Unfortunately, this is fairly common. Some of our most needy patients live alone with no one to look after them. We started upstairs. The apartment was as we’d expected; the trash hadn’t been tended in a while, and there were large stacks of newspapers, magazines and clothes everywhere. Some survivors of the Great Depression simply can’t throw things away; they’re afraid they may need them someday. We are left winding our way through the piles.

The firefighters were tending to Mrs. Smith*. She wasn’t badly hurt, but she needed to go get checked out. We loaded her into our folding stair chair for the climb back downstairs. It always seems that the sick people don’t live on the first floor, and in our old cities all of the staircases have at least a 90 degree turn in them. This one had a full 180 degree turn.

As we reached the bend, we stopped. Looking down, we found a police officer struggling to open the door from the inside. “Who shut that?” I yelled.

“I did,” responded Officer Dumbass, defensively.
“Why the HELL did you do that?” I yelled back.
“I had to see if we could secure it.”

OK, it’s always a bad idea to argue with the man with the gun. Add to that the fact that we work for a private service; we’re not supposed to antagonize the municipal employees. They tend to complain to our bosses. Still, here we were, two paramedics, a sick patient, and two firemen, all trapped in the stairwell with Officer Dumbass.

The firemen saved me. They could yell with impunity, and yell they did. Meanwhile, the poor captain was out on the front porch by himself, forcing the door open. AGAIN. Thanks, Cap.

We carried Mrs. Smith out to the street, only to find that our friend in blue had parked his car directly behind our ambulance. Ever notice where the stretcher goes?! Now that he was humiliated, Officer Dumbass decided to ignore us. He reasoned that he desperately needed to get some information from the visiting nurse. One of the firemen offered to move the car, but the captain wouldn’t let him. “Just climb on the hood; let him explain the dent to his Sergeant.” I think I like this captain.

Eventually Mrs. Smith got to the hospital in one piece. She got checked out, got social services, and came safely home again, no thanks to the local PD or our own dispatchers.

*Names and other identifiable details have been changed, of course.

Can’t Make this (Stuff) Up

“You can’t make this sh*t up.” A fire instructor whom I admire once told me that. As I look back over my career in both EMS and the fire service, I see how right he was. Friends laugh at my stories, and my wife says I should write them down.

Like many people in EMS, I never intended to be an EMT or Paramedic. I have an Ivy League education and a degree in engineering. I had just gotten my EMT certification for my volunteer fire department when I got laid off from my real job. I figured I’d work the ambulance for a few months while I looked for another engineering job. I got hooked on EMS and here I am, almost ten years later, writing short anecdotes for the book I hope to write some day.

Stay tuned for anecdotes in no particular order. The names, locations, and other details have been changed to protect the innocent or guilty, as the case may be.

(Thanks to Tom Reynolds and AD, among others, for the inspiration to blog instead of keeping my notes locked up in my laptop.)

Summer begins

The sun is shining, the music is good, the traffic is light, and the patients aren’t too sick.

Altogether, it’s a pretty nice day to be a medic in my corner of the world.

(For now, of course. )

One of THOSE days, or the Value of Doing It Right The First Time

The weather was forecast to be nice today, so I was eager to get the motorcar out for a run on the Cotton Valley rails. Yesterday I installed my foot clutch conversion. The hardest part was drilling the hole in the tunnel for the shaft to pass through.

The hand clutch lever had a return spring which appeared to be aftermarket. I didn’t really need it on the pedal, but I didn’t have a cotter pin handy so I reinstalled the spring in the hole.

Today when I got to Fernald, the battery was low on the car, probably as a result of the excessive turntable usage yesterday while working underneath. I was forced to attempt a push-start; no fun with a cold Onan. (Memo to self: jumper cables, and charge the battery before going out.)

After multiple attempts which served to prime the carburetor, the engine finally caught. As I slammed the clutch pedal down to allow the engine to idle, my foot slipped off. The spring caused the pedal to fly through almost 270 degrees, slapping the battery switch to Off and shearing the key.

No problem. I can quickly rewire the battery to bypass the switch. The second push-start was quick and fairly easy, but now it wasn’t charging. Cutting the battery circuit with the engine running is a bad thing.

In the end, my laziness with the cotter pin cost me a blown alternator and a broken battery switch, not to mention today’s ride.

And therein lies the Value of Doing It Right The First Time. Everything’s back together and seems OK now, and the darn spring has been removed.

(Edit: Another motorcar operator pointed out that the weight of the pedal alone could be detrimental to my clutch throwout bearing. I’ve since replaced the spring with a properly-sized one, and installed a more robust battery switch. A pedal stop will be forthcoming as well.)

Sold the Denali


Sold Ericka’s Denali today, not a moment too soon. The darn thing developed a flat this morning while doing errands, and I managed to damage the tire beyond repair. At least it didn’t go flat on the Tobin.

We wish the new owner the best of luck, but I’m glad to have it out of our hair. For now, everything else starts on command and holds air in its tires.

BTW, woohoo! for Craigslist. It took less than 90 minutes to sell, and it’s still been generating offers via email all day.

So I guess today’s single line would be: “Hooray! It’s gone.”